White grievance dominates woke progressivism, even when its faces are people of color


Socialist writer Anand Giridharadas interviewed former Bernie Sanders national campaign co-chair Rep. Ro Khanna for his newsletter, and the product was an illuminating example of how badly white-centrism - and in particular anti-Black bias - pervades the institutional underpinnings of far-left media. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a constituent of Khanna's.

Khanna and Giridharadas are both people of color and are both faces of the somewhat successful effort by the far left to put up a front that appears diverse. In fact, Giridharadas, Khanna, and I share a common heritage: we are all Indo-Americans. But despite this effort to create a shield with willing people of color, the modern American socialist movement is riddled with white grievance, class reductionism, and the view that people of color outside their white-centered circle - and especially Black people - are audiences to be persuaded rather than core constituencies whose concerns should be centered and lead followed.

The Giridharadas-Khanna dialog is no exception.


Perhaps the most glaring example of white-centrism is the part of the conversation that directly objectifies Black voters for living in the south, eerily reminiscent of the time when Bernie Sanders mocked Black voters as being irrelevant because they lived in "red" states. Khanna decries the lack of "outreach to the Black South," framing the conversation in a way that defines Black voters (who rejected Sanders twice) to be outside the "progressive" tent and sets up a reality in which Black voters needed to join the 'progressive' circle, rather than 'progressives' having a responsibility to center, elevate, and follow the lead of Black voters.

Khanna appears to recognize that leftists' constant invocation of Franklin Roosevelt as a model for progressive policy is hurting them among Black voters, given that Black people were essentially locked out from initially accessing many of FDR's programs credited with building the modern (white) middle class. But the very fact that a president whose policies, in Khanna's own words, were "extraordinarily racially exclusive" is held up as the north star for modern progressivism in the first place underscores how central white grievance is to the movement he represents, even when those speaking for it are people of color. The fact that before the racial exclusion of FDR was pointed out to him, Khanna, as an Asian American, never thought to publicly question as the face of the modern socialist-progressive movement a president who interned Asian Americans on account of their race only serves to accentuate the movement's catastrophic failure to truly center racial justice.

But there is a reason why FDR's racism does not appear to engender much awareness, let alone problems, within the modern socialist-progressive movement: they believe in class reductionism; the rather racist concept that class divisions are the root of all oppressions, that all other social ills, including racism, flow from class divisions, and that therefore those social ills can be solved by simply focusing on class solidarity. It is in this vein and through this prism that Khanna continues to view Black voters, perhaps without even realizing he is doing so. He proposes that centering class aspirations, rather than racial justice, is the path to reach Black people, especially younger Black voters. It's what Trump did to gain among Black youth, Khanna says.

I also think progressives need an understanding of the aspiration for wealth generation and wealth creation. These communities have huge concerns about racial justice and criminal justice and healthcare, but you talk to young people, and they have dreams, too. They want to go make money, they want to go start businesses, they want to have economic opportunity. They have aspirations to overcome the racial wealth gap through creating things and building things. It’s one of the reasons I think Donald Trump did well with younger Black men in particular.

One problem. It is, in fact, not true that Trump did well among young Black people, or at least, that he did better among younger Black people than older Black voters. 92% of Black voters over 60 chose Biden-Harris in November. A nearly identical proportion - 89% - of Black voters under 30 voted the same way. Trump did get a higher portion of votes from Black men than from Black women, but the gender gap existed in every racial demographic.

The takeaway from progressives to getting their clocks cleaned by Black voters in two subsequent national primaries shouldn't be that they haven't done enough class reductionism. And yet, instead of explaining to their own flock that the preferences, outlook, and leadership of communities of color should be centered, they appear stuck trying to lecture Black voters about why they should come on board with class solidarity, something that inherently centers white grievance.

This attitude - that Black people need to move in the direction of the modern left rather than the other way around - is embedded throughout Giridharadas's interview with Khanna. Giridharadas and Khanna set a stage for discounting and discrediting Black voters from the very start.


The interview begins with a false-choice frame: by presenting the debate within the Democratic Party as a choice between "moderates and progressives," and the discussion is framed as an intellectual conversation on how progressives can win that internal fight.

A far higher proportion of Black Democrats identify as moderates than do white Democrats, and the share of Black Democrats voters who identify as 'liberal' or 'progressive' has barely moved in the last 20 years. In the same time-frame, the share of white Democrats who identify as 'progressive' has almost doubled.

Self-identified ideology, however, is a deceptive tool when it comes to understanding moderate Democrats. For moderate Democrats - and among Black voters especially - 'moderation' is not about individual core beliefs but largely about pragmatism. There is not a wide gulf on values: Democrats from Pramila Jayapal to Joe Manchin all believe that health care is a right, obtaining education beyond high school should not get one into house debt, and systemic racism is a pervasive evil.

But Black Democrats are pragmatic and patient, qualities the woke left has openly berated as weak, cowardly, and even corrupt. The patience of Black voters is not about delaying justice but about never giving up no matter how long it takes to get it. No one knows better than Black Americans how hard and gradual progress is. They are skeptical of politicians who are big on promise and short on patience, something that has come to define modern leftism. To gain the trust of Black voters, a candidate must have more than plans; they must have a record of delivering.

Khanna and Giridharadas are so insistent on branding the fight as a battle royale between a side that they imagine to be invertebrate moderates and a side they fancy as caped progressives that they appear to be blind to this reality.

This blindness and hostility toward pragmatic liberals does, however, lead to a pleasant surprise on Khanna's part. He admits that President Biden is governing as more of an economic progressive than he would have expected, including by proposing a large COVID relief package. He is really impressed by a monthly allowance that the Biden administration has proposed for families.

"The proposal I was most appreciative of and blown away by was the $300-a-month child allowance, which would be $3,600 a year for families."

As much as Khanna seems appreciative of the move, his very surprise comes from the discounting and erasure of Black leadership. The idea of direct and permanent payments to working and middle-class Americans was first introduced in 2018 by.... Vice President Kamala Harris, when she was a Senator from California. Harris then proposed $500 monthly refundable tax credit for families making under $100,000 a year. Progressive intelligentsia was probably too busy making sure single-payer healthcare went mainstream in time for the 2020 primary campaign to notice that the second Black woman ever to serve in the Senate was leading on core economic issues like cash payments to families, Black maternal mortality, and more.


Which brings us to the issue that is a sacrosanct (and often sanctimonious) litmus test for the progressive establishment: a single-payer healthcare system they call Medicare for All, even though it hardly even resembles Medicare as it exists today. Khanna and Giridharadas discuss ideas to advance single-payer, even if it had to be done piecemeal. Khanna praises Biden's proposal to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 and talks about legislation he's introduced that would grant waivers to states to set up their own single-payer systems as tests for an eventual national system.

But they miss a central and growing trend: Medicare, as it is designed today, is not a single payer system. Medicare beneficiaries today can choose between traditional, government-payer Medicare and a private healthcare plan. In fact, the rate at which current Medicare beneficiaries are choosing private plans is only accelerating. 40% of Medicare beneficiaries chose private plans known as Medicare Advantage in 2020, up from about 5% in 2003. What's more, over time, Medicare Advantage has enrolled a greater proportion of low-income Medicare recipients, and the share of private plan enrollees who are people of color has slowly but steadily risen.

Needless to say, if President Biden succeeds in giving those between ages 60 and 65 an option to buy into Medicare or even in lowering the eligibility age altogether, those newly eligible would have the option to choose a private plan.

As for experimenting with single-payer in states, Khanna may wish to note that Medicare Advantage is highly popular among Medicare recipients in some of the bluest and most diverse (as well as some of the reddest) states. 43% a piece of the Medicare population in California and New York - and nearly half in Oregon and Florida - are enrolled in a private plan. The single-payer version on Medicare for All that Khanna, Giridharadas - and their movement leader Bernie Sanders - support would, by design, force almost half of Medicare enrollees off of the plans they chose.

The one Democratic primary candidate who was smart enough to realize this and change their Medicare for All plan to account for and include private plans is now Vice President of the United States. After having initially signed onto Bernie Sanders's single-payer version of Medicare for All, Kamala Harris unveiled a modified and modern plan in 2019 that recognized and included the choices people were already making.

The woke left has done a great job of recruiting some prominent people of color as the faces of their movement, but they haven't spent half as much time truly deprioritizing grievances stemming from white privilege or following the leads of people who actually represent the voting patterns of people of color, particularly Black Americans. Some of them may be realizing that FDR's racial exclusion makes him an inconvenient face for modern progressives, but they are not ready to let go of the FDR's posture as their north star. There may be an increasing willingness to use states as the laboratories for the policies they advocate for, but there is no willingness to adapt their policies for the realitiies on the ground, lest they have to give up on always making an enemy out of private industry.

As long as that remains true, the fact that some people of color are at the forefront of elevating white grievance won't mask the fact that the center of the woke-progressive universe is, still, white grievance.

Like what you read? Leave a Tip. 

💰 Fund the Fight